Note: The information in this profile represents SY2010-11 unless otherwise indicated.

School/organization overview

Name Alliance College-Ready Public Schools
Type Charter Management Organization
Locale Urban
Headquarters Los Angeles, California
First year of operation SY2004-05
Grades served 9-12
Enrollment 8,500
% FRL 95.3%
% Black or Hispanic 99.1%
Per-pupil funding $7,500

Blended-learning program (1 of 2)

Name Pilot study
Focus General
Year launched SY2010-11
Enrollment 300
Blended grades
Blended subjects
Math, English Language Arts, History/Social Studies, Science, Electives
Content Revolution Prep, Achieve 3000, HippoCampus (NROC), OER
SIS Pinnacle (GlobalScholar), PowerSchool
Independent LMS None
Independent gradebook Pinnacle (GlobalScholar), PowerSchool
Independent assessment None
Professional development  None

Blended-learning program (2 of 2)

Name Summer Bridge program
Focus Credit recovery
Year launched SY2010-11
Enrollment 300
Blended grades
Blended subjects
Math, English Language Arts
Content Revolution Prep, Achieve 3000, HippoCampus (NROC), OER
SIS Pinnacle (GlobalScholar), PowerSchool
Independent LMS EdElements
Independent gradebook Pinnacle (GlobalScholar), PowerSchool
Independent assessment None
Professional development  None

Program model

Program model: Station Rotation, Self-Blend

Model description
Station Rotation: In pilot study, students rotate among face-to-face, online, and peer-group instruction and activities.

Self-Blend: Summer program is 100% online, but mostly in a brick-and-mortar facility with adult supervision.

Program background

History and context
Alliance College-Ready Public Schools (Alliance) began seven years ago, with the mission to prove that children even in the most economically disadvantaged communities could become eligible for college. Alliance currently manages 12 high schools and six middle schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Its model has always relied on providing access to technology for disadvantaged children, so the decision to experiment with blended learning aligned well with the organization’s philosophy.

Alliance has piloted two separate forays into blended learning. In the summer of 2010, out of budget necessity, Alliance was forced to convert the summer program at one of its schools to purely online delivery at the school’s computer labs. Separately, in the fall of 2010 Alliance began to pilot a new blended program for ninth graders in two of its high schools: Alliance College-Ready Academy High School #11 and Heritage College-Ready Academy High School.

Blended model
For the summer program, the participating high school employed a principal, assistant principal, counselor, and only one certificated teacher. Most students attended the physical campus to take the courses, although they had the option to take the courses at home if they had connectivity. The courses were mostly online textbooks, with little provision for student interaction other than reading the texts and completing assessments. Students used this opportunity for credit recovery or to get ahead.

Alliance’s more central project to experiment with blended learning began in the fall of 2010 with the launch of a pilot study at two of its high schools. The blended-learning model at these schools involved extending most class periods to 120 minutes. Within each class period, the students learned online for 50 to 75 percent of the time, with the exception of English and physical education, where online learning constituted 30 to 50 percent of the time. Teachers divided their classes into three student groups that cycled through a learning circle, including: (1) individualized online instruction using adaptive content; (2) focused teacher-led instruction based on data from online-content systems to set the level for each group; and (3) learning stations with structured, collaborative, standards-based activities.

The “best-of-both-worlds” theory behind this blended model combined individualized online instruction with focused, teacher-led, small-group instruction. The intent was to free up resources and reallocate them to need-specific services, as well as to improve college readiness by engaging students with technology, mixed with group participation and reflection.

Class sizes remained unchanged during the pilot, although theoretically the online component could eventually free up teacher resources enough to accommodate larger class sizes. The pilot focused on training teachers and assessing results to ensure that the model worked before making further changes to class design or structure. One of the explicit long-term objectives of the program, however, was to leverage instructional technologies effectively and efficiently to increase the number of students that Alliance could serve and to reallocate labor cost savings to programs which would increase student achievement.

Other goals included providing differentiated instruction customized to student needs, an evolving pedagogy that moved teachers beyond the lecturer role, more engaging learning sessions for students, and a rethinking of how to integrate technology into the classroom to make learning more effective and efficient.

In the pilot-study model, the reconfigured role of teachers allowed them to update each student’s personalized learning plan regularly, instead of only at the beginning of the year. Online instruction allowed students to self-pace, instead of being tethered to the clock. The goal was to make the curriculum more engaging and intrinsically motivating than in a traditional lecture-style classroom.

Alliance planned to collect, analyze, and use data to inform individualized learning plans throughout the year. Assessments measured student proficiency at the end of each six-to-eight week instruction period. The pilot schools uploaded assessment results into DataDirector, and then teachers accessed these results to provide customized interventions. The student data management systems—PowerSchool for some of Alliance’s schools and Global Scholar’s Excelsior Pinnacle for the others—tracked ongoing performance to monitor classroom success. These systems also served as the parent communication portals. They were also used to manage each student’s personal learning plans. Alliance did not yet have an integrated platform that linked student data, teacher data, attendance data, standards, and the like. It is working with Education Elements to create such a platform.

Notable results
The pilot testing was too premature to produce results, but the model did promise various cost savings. Initially, the main savings came from replacing textbooks with free eBooks. Alliance was spending $50,000 on average per grade level on textbooks, but the new model eliminated these costs. The blended model could eventually free up teacher resources to allow for larger class sizes and a rethinking of facility costs. The purpose of the pilot study, however, was to test the efficacy of blended learning and analyze student engagement and staff readiness, rather than to realize savings.

The summer school program dramatically reduced labor costs, thereby producing trem-endous cost savings relative to the prior year. In the past, Alliance had paid for roughly 15 full-time teachers for four weeks at their regular compensation rate for one month at a cost of $75,000 for labor. The virtual summer school only needed a principal, assistant principal, counselor, and one teacher at a total cost of $33,000—less than half the cost of prior years. It also saved expenses on hardcopy supplemental summer session instructional material, which usually were around $60 per student.

On the horizon
Alliance plans to implement a newly designed whole school model, called BLAST, in the fall of 2011 for grades 9 to 12. Building upon the results of the 2010–11 pilot study, BLAST will be the first of many schools that Alliance plans to open in the future with a schoolwide blended-learning backbone. In contrast to the schools in the pilot study, BLAST will use higher student-to-teacher ratios to help reduce costs.

Alliance has joined four other CMOs to form the nonprofit, College Ready Promise, which received a $60 million operating grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. College Ready Promise will use $22 million of this grant to build a better data warehouse system that will measure teacher effectiveness by linking student achievement data with teacher and classroom performance. Alliance plans to develop rubrics to measure teacher effectiveness in a blended-learning environment as part of this project.


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